Storm Inside TitleOK, we should have got this out a little bit earlier but after a launch party for the album, which had a higher bodycount than the Leeds-Chelsea 1970 Cup Final replay (although the gig was more entertaining), and a deluge of albums being released at the same time, things got a bit congested. Anyway, we got there in the end and it was well worth the wait. “The Storm Inside”, the fourth Little Devils album, is the work of a band at the top of their game both as writers and performers. The band has built up quite a following on the live blues circuit in the UK and Europe with their unique sound and the energy and quality are captured well on “The Storm Inside”.

The foundation of the band’s sound is the rhythm section of Graeme Wheatley (bass) and Sara Leigh Shaw, aka the Pintsized Powerhouse, (drums); whatever the style or tempo, they do the business while still leaving the space for Big Ray (guitar) and Yoka (vocals) to do their bit. It’s a bit of an understatement to call Yoka a singer; she has a huge dynamic range, dealing equally well with the belters and the ballads but she has a few more weapons in the armoury. The first is that she plays saxophone, which isn’t unknown in blues bands and adds another lead instrument to the mix. The second is that she plays flute, which is very unusual in a rock context (unless you count Jethro Tull and Focus). Apart from having a bit of prog baggage, the flute works really well, its clear tones cutting through over-driven guitar tones very effectively to add an unusual texture to the band’s sound.

There’s a bit of a concept feel to the album as well, as it’s topped and tailed by storm-themed songs. The moody and atmospheric “Storm Warning” opens with slide resonator guitar and harmonica while the album’s closer “Heavy Weather” is a slow blues featuring Yoka’s flute. In between, you get another twelve tracks ranging in style from the traditional slow blues with a big guitar solo of “My Perfect You” (the first single from the album) to the Motown rhythms of “Stand”, featuring horns from Penny and the Pounds and the country blues of “Cold”.

It’s easy to see (and hear) why Little Devils are carving out such a niche for themselves with their live and studio work; they do all of the things that you would expect a good blues band to and then they sprinkle it with their own magic ingredients to create something a little bit special. Whether it’s a sax or flute solo, or even Graeme Wheatley’s growling vocal delivery, there’s always something a little bit different going on to set this band apart.

“The Storm Inside” is out now on Krossborder Rekords (KBR 2015/3).

Aynsley TitleIt’s a bit like the footie really; the real fans are the ones who come out on a cold Tuesday night in January to show their support. Things start slowly but by the time Little Devils hit the stage, the 100 Club’s full and everyone’s forgotten that it’s brass monkeys out on Oxford Street. It’s one of those nights that proves that there’s still a healthy audience for blues bands (and it isn’t just the Wrinkly Rockers) but it also shows the range of artists taking shelter under the blues umbrella.

Stark suffer a little bit from the ‘I’m only here to see the headliners’ syndrome (and too many people having loud conversations, but don’t get me started on that) but they power-trio their way through a solid set to a decent response (and it still seems odd to see a guitarist play a resonator for electric blues, but it seemed to work).

It’s about a year since I last saw Little Devils (one of my Top 5 gigs of the year) and, in that time, they’ve certainly moved on. Most of last year’s set came from the then-current EP “About Time”, but there was a lot of new material this time which should be appearing on the album they’re just about to record. They cover a wide range of styles in forty-five minutes, ranging from funked-up blues driven along by Sara’s drums and Graeme’s sinuous basslines, through slow blues ballads showing the power of Yoka’s voice and Big Ray’s fret-bashing, almost all the way to prog-rock with some of the flute solos (well, they are on the same bill as Focus in a month). The Devils have a very strong stage presence, good songs and the kind of feelgood factor that generates a loyal fanbase; tonight, the cold January night seems a long way away as they turn the audience from quiet foot-tappers into a seething mass that’s ready for anything.

Which brings us to Aynsley Lister. I’ve never seen Aynsley do a headline set and I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. He’s a little bit more subdued than usual following a recent back injury, but that doesn’t mean he’s holding back musically, although we certainly don’t get any star jumps. The longer headline set gives the band the opportunity to have a bit of fun and jam a little with guitar and keys trading licks occasionally, but the songs are still strong, with “Inside Out”, “Broke”, “Sugar”, “Impossible” and “Hyde 2612” from the latest album “Home” all making the set, each one showing a different facet of Aynsley’s playing, writing or singing. It’s all too easy to focus on Aynsley’s playing, but his voice really does set him apart; it’s a soulful rock voice with a bit of a plaintive edge which works perfectly for the songs from “Home”. The finale’s “Purple Rain” of course, which combines a bit of guitar flash with audience participation and that’s a pretty solid way to end the night.

It’s pretty good demonstration of the diversity and general good health of the British blues scene that three bands so different can share a bill and all be appreciated by the audience. We all expect musicians this scene to be able to play, but both Little Devils and Aynsley Lister have very strong original material and the best songs tonight from both bands are probably the ones that are furthest away from traditional blues roots (Aynsley’s “Inside Out”, for example). I think that’s a good thing (it certainly made “Home” one of my favourite albums of 2013) but I know that not everyone agrees.

Anyway, the bottom line is that this was a great night out with two bands playing such different styles that there was no sense of competition, just a huge effort to give the audience a good time. And you can’t argue with that on a Tuesday night in January.